She Said · Opioids · Dr. Death
Plus: Crime reporting suppression allegations against the LA Times
The first trailer is out for She Said, the dramatic adaptation of Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey’s book about their investigation into the allegations against Harvey Weinstein. Kantor and Twohey’s book came out just a couple months after we launched Best Evidence, so it struck me as wild that the film version is “already” good to go — I guess we’ve been at this longer than it feels like we have!
The book version of She Said was notable as a journalistic procedural: As opposed to being a simple catalog of the various claims against Weinstein, it was instead an indictment of the various systems that allowed him to get away with his pattern of assault, harassment, and coercion for as long as he did — all told through the lens of Kantor and Twohey’s race to report out the NYT’s bombshell 2017 report on the decades of allegations against the media mogul.
The trailer for the film centers Kantor and Twohey as much, if not more, than the book does, with Zoe Kazan made far slighter and mousier than Jodi Kantor — in real life, a real powerhouse of a person — and Carey Mulligan (Twohey) speaking in a voice oddly similar to Wanda Maximoff’s after she went evil. And as presented in the trailer, both reporters seem strangely surprised at everything they’re hearing, even though there were known claims against Weinstein for years before they started their reporting (something that Kantor and Twohey make clear in their book).
I’m already getting too far into the whole “criticize the movie based on the trailer” thing for my comfort, but I do want to direct you to a couple other takes on this small sample of the film:
Writing for Paste, Saffron Maeve notes that the movie “is also produced by Brad Pitt, an alleged domestic abuser, which speaks volumes about the performative potential of modern period films, masquerading as progress while buttressing their own malefactors.”
Over at the AV Club, Mary Kate Carr writes even more about Pitt (but eschews the domestic violence claims):
An interesting aspect of the film is that Brad Pitt counts among the producers. In one of the follow-up pieces to the original Weinstein story, Gwyneth Paltrow recalled Pitt confronting and threatening Weinstein after she informed her then-boyfriend of his sexual harassment. Pitt continued to work with Weinstein, even after his wife Angelina Jolie shared the severity of her own encounter with him; Jolie later said the continued association was something the couple “fought” about.
Pitt’s involvement is just one reason to ask: is Hollywood capable of fictionalizing an event so close to its own rotting heart? Weinstein may be the business’ most infamous predator, but his crimes are not an isolated incident–the industry is still undoubtedly littered with abusers and those complicit in abuse.
Before you wonder if Carr and Maeve are grasping at Pitt clickbait, I should note that Pitt’s involvement has been highly touted in the press materials for the film, which makes his involvement the fairest of games. But here’s what I keep coming back to when I see well-reasoned and fair questions like Carr’s: What’s the alternative to Hollywood when it comes to bringing these issues to the public consciousness?
Where is this outlet, this platform, that doesn’t have its own set of rapists and enablers in its midst? The New York Times is certainly not immune from sexual harassment and assault scandal (in fact, one of their star reporter’s résumés is littered with claims that only got him suspended for a bit but now it’s back to biz as usual!) But no one is saying the NYT isn’t up to the task of unmasking predators, even with at least one alleged predator still in its newsroom.
I guess what I’m saying is that that whole “without sin/cast the first stone” idea works great when we’re talking about keeping good relationships with roommates or reacting to bad drivers. But when it comes to taking on serious matters like sexual assault, I’d rather see a flawed institution attempt bring the issue to masses than to cower far away from the problem, shying away from even bringing the matter up.
She Said isn’t out until November 18, so we’ll have plenty of time to mull this one over — but if Brad Pitt is smart, he’d spend less time debating his self-diagnosed face blindness and more time explaining why he’s concerned about abuse in Hollywood, and what else he plans on doing about it. — EB
The TV version of Dr. Death will return with another alliterative problem physician. Per a press release from NBC-owned Peacock, the second season of the series will focus on the case of Paolo Macchiarini, an Italian doctor (nicknamed the “Miracle Man”) you might know from Vanity Fair’s 2016 longread “The Celebrity Surgeon Who Used Love, Money, And The Pope To Scam An NBC News Producer.”
Folks who listened to the Dr. Death podcast will also recognize Macchiarini from the show’s third season, but you’ll find that fact barely mentioned in the press release for the TV version. Instead, we get quotes like “The new installment of this highly-addictive anthology series explores a globe-trotting surgeon who seduces the medical world, and we know we're in expert hands with our partners at Wondery, UCP, Patrick Macmanus and new season EP/showrunner Ashley Michel Hoban” (that’s from NBC scripted content head Lisa Katz) and “This season, we go global to explore how institutional failure to protect patients is a universal issue, but there are always heroes standing up and fighting for change every day. I can't wait to share this story of romance, intrigue, complicated characters, and, of course, the eeriness that is Dr. Death with our fans.” (That’s from Hoban.)
It’s interesting to me that the TV series isn’t interested in tackling the podcast’s second-season topic, Farid Fata (another alliteration!), the Detroit doctor who told healthy patients they had cancer so he could bill them for costly chemotherapy treatments. From the DoJ press release when Fata was sentenced to 45 years in prison:
“It is startling and abhorrent when greed is so potent that it drives a medical professional to recklessly abandon the most basic and important principle of his profession, ‘First, Do No Harm,” said Special Agent in Charge Pugh. “Dr. Fata did just that when he falsely diagnosed his patients with cancer and administered toxic chemotherapy with potentially harmful and even deadly side effects. Today’s sentencing is a clear message that, working closely with our law enforcement partners, we will continue to investigate, charge and prosecute medical professionals who jeopardize the health of patients.”
“This is the most egregious case of fraud and deception that I have seen in my career," said Chief Weber. “Dr. Fata not only defrauded the government out of millions of dollars, but he lied to his patients about their health and intentionally put their lives at risk. In fact, because of his lies, some of those patients who he was entrusted to care for likely died as a result of his actions. This defendant greedily cared more about his own financial well-being than the lives of his patients. This disgusting and diabolical scheme has hurt hundreds of patients and their families and stolen from them something that no punishment from the court can do to make them whole.”
According to the podcast, Fata’s scam was one of the largest health care frauds in U.S. history and it’s a legitimately gripping story, but maybe it’s not gripping enough for Peacock?
Then again, Peacock and NBC has an inside track in the Macchiarini case, as you likely guessed from the VF headline I mentioned above. Then NBC news staffer Benita Alexander embarked on a relationship with Macchiarini while working on a two-hour Meredith Vieira on his story; the affair was a clear ethical breach but “I made a very conscious decision not to tell anybody else at work what I was doing.” Eventually, the pair decided to get married, a high-profile event where Macchiarini said Pope Francis — with whom he claimed to have personal ties — would officiate.
It turned out that the Pope claim was a lie, and as the wedding unraveled, reporters like VF’s Adam Ciralsky started looking into Macchiarini’s background more, and even more cracks in his slickly-presented fraud were revealed.
As I recap this, I guess I can see why Macchiarini was an obvious next step for Peacock — the romance-fraud angle has a nice Dirty John vibe (not to cross my podcast-to-TV-streams) and the NBC connection makes this exceedingly low-hanging fruit for the streamer to pluck.
It’s still very early days with this show, so we don’t have any casting announcements or a release timeline as yet. If you’re thinking about casting, though, the VF piece has loads of photos to get your amateur casting agent mind going. Remind me, how’s Antonio Banderas’s Italian accent? — EB
Are you ready for another lit-based series about the opioid epidemic? Friday Night Lights star Taylor Kitsch is on the promotions path for a pretty crappy-looking Amazon series he’s in, but he’s also fielding questions about Painkiller, a Netflix series with an as-yet-unannounced release date.
The show is an adaptation of Patrick Radden Keefe’s “The Family That Built an Empire of Pain” for the New Yorker; the family in question are the Sacklers, arguably the truest criminals this country has seen in a spell.
So I’m counting it, the same way we’ve been counting Dopesick, as true crime, a decision endorsed (though he doesn’t know it) by erstwhile Jonathan and Dopesick creator Danny Strong. Strong spoke with Deadline last week following his series’ Emmy nomination score, and said:
I’d be happy to do a true crime piece if I thought it was a really terrific story worth telling. And in many ways, Dopesick is a true crime story. I mean the Sackler portion of it, the Purdue pharma portion is executed in many ways like a crime story. You’ve got investigators uncovering clues to show a crime happening.
So, that’s handled; now back to Painkiller, which has a wild cast. Per Collider, Uzo Aduba and Kitsch play significant roles, as do not one but two celebrity offspring: West Duchovny (daughter of David Duchovny and Tea Leoni) and Tyler Ritter (John’s son Jason’s brother) are also named in the cast. Most squirmily, Matthew Broderick is billionaire Oxy dealer Richard Sackler, the Big Bad of the piece.
When The Hollywood Reporter caught Kitsch on the red carpet recently, they asked him if this town was big enough for two opioids series, which seems a little laughable given the massive impact of the epidemic, but a red carpet reporter’s got to eat, I suppose. Kitsch was surprisingly patient in his response, saying, “We’re fucking pumped about it and not nervous after Dopesick, not at all …We’re a very different show and when you’ve got Pete Berg at the helm, you know we’re not fucking around.”
Kitsch is playing a character who ends up hooked on the Sacklers’ deadly drug, but as winning as he is (Tim Riggins 4evr), I have to admit that what’s getting my butt in the seat is Broderick as Sackler. That’s something I gotta see. — EB
Early buzz is very good for Bad City, an upcoming book about an overdose scandal with ties to the University of Southern California, Los Angeles’ most powerful school. A big part of that buzz is how the author, investigative reporter Paul Pringle, says that one of the biggest villains in the case is the LA Times: the paper for which he worked when the alleged crimes went down, and still does today.
Pringle’s book, which was released today, is centered on the work he did to reveal the ethical lapses and alleged crimes of USC med school’s then-dean Carmen A. Puliafito. But his reporting came close to never seeing the light of day, he reveals in Bad City, as leadership at the paper (then under the ownership of media conglomerate Tronc) tried to spike the story in fear that reporting it would alienate the school.
“A clandestine team of reporters had to hide their early efforts to cover the university from the paper’s top management,” the LA Times now reports, a skunkworks group that ended up winning a Pulitzer for its work.
The LAT recaps a lot of the papers’ alleged misdeeds in its coverage of the book, something that’s probably more comfortable to do with a new owner at the pub and those top managers now out of the building. Meanwhile, the New York Times showers the book with praise in a manner they typically reserve for books from its own staff. (Did we just come full circle to She Said? You bet your ass we did.) A snip:
Pringle’s fast-paced book is a master class in investigative journalism, explaining how a reporter wrestles information and documents from reluctant sources and government officials. It is a stark look at the weakening of local news, especially at The Los Angeles Times. Sam Zell, a notorious vulture investor, had acquired the newspaper’s parent company in 2007, and mortgaged away its own employees’ pensions, leaving the company in financial ruin in 2008, before the biotech billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong purchased the flailing paper in 2018. “Bad City” is a compelling version of this narrative that one can rip through in a few long afternoons at the beach.
But Pringle doesn’t let the reader linger on the salacious details without considering the many ways that unchecked power fosters depravity and corruption, a shopworn idea that seems to have fresh relevance in 2022, when abuse of authority is on the rise and checks on that abuse seem ever less likely to win out.
I have a red-eye flight tomorrow night, the kind of flight I usually dread because I can’t ever sleep and get suddenly bored with everything I have to read. Not to set myself up for disappointment, but I’m already excited to hit cruising altitude and pick up Bad City. It feels like exactly what the doctor ordered. — EB
Wednesday on Best Evidence: Not sure what to read/watch/listen to next? Ask your fellow B.E. readers! (Want to submit a query? Contact info’s below!)